Yuko is a Japanese actress currently living in Helsinki, Finland. Yuko received extensive education in the US and obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre arts at University of Central Oklahoma (2004) and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting at University of Arkansas-Fayetteville (2007). Yuko also holds a master’s degree in theatre pedagogy at Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy in Helsinki, Finland (2018). She has taught physical training methods for performers in various institutions and workshops in Finland such as the Theatre Academy and Työvaen akatemia. Yuko has also been working professionally in Theatre, TV/Film and other performing arts fields since 2009. In Finland she has a long working history with independent theatre company Myllyteatteri. She has performed in many of its productions such as “Saari – The Island” (2009), “Divine Comedy” (2011) “Tapaus Gaala” (2014), and “Mestari/Margarita” (2021). In 2013, Yuko won a nationwide singing competition for immigrants called OurVision in Finland. Since then, her career as a musician has been blossoming. She is now the lead singer and lyricist in Elena’s Idea, a music band based in Helsinki.
I hope you have enjoyed the previous blog posts of interviews with the alumni. Today I am introducing a guest whose relationship with Finland started out to be quite a whirlwind.
Yuko, originally from Japan, pursued her studies in Theatre and Acting in the United States from 2000 to 2008. Her initial connection with Finland emerged in 2009 when she received an invitation from a theatre director friend to collaborate on a project in Finland. Driven by her passion for artistic expression, she seized the opportunity, arriving in Finland during the fall and spending a fruitful three months acquainting herself with the place and its people.
Her involvement in a subsequent project in 2010 marked a turning point, prompting Yuko to contemplate furthering her career in Helsinki. She was asked to perform in the annual ecumenical Easter play, “Via Crucis, The Way of the Cross,” produced by Lutheran Church in Helsinki. Despite not speaking Finnish at the time and having only a brief rehearsal period, Yuko boldly accepted the challenging role of Jesus Christ. Her performance in front of fifteen thousand audiences was initially met with controversy but was ultimately well-received. This experience ignited Yuko’s desire to explore the city and country further.
In 2011, another invitation beckoned Yuko to Finland, leading her to make the decision to officially relocate. While she hadn’t planned to settle permanently, she sensed that Helsinki might offer her the space for creative and unconventional pursuits. Comparing the rich culture and traditions of Japan to a more constricted environment, Yuko saw Helsinki as a blank canvas—a place where she could paint the life she desired, to be who she really wants to be.
I was so fascinated and it felt like my blood was boiling when I heard about the story of how Yuko got the role of Jesus. Isn’t it very exciting? I was also attracted to Helsinki for the possibility of who I can be in here. Being away from home and the social expectations that I am used to, I have the possibility to explore who I really am. So far Yuko’s sharing has been very encouraging, but life is not all roses and rainbows. During our interview, Yuko candidly shared the difficulties she faced, including her battle with depression while navigating her artistic career in a new cultural landscape. I am very grateful for her to share this part of her life with me and our readers here.
As an artist, Yuko found the struggle real when it seemed her work went unnoticed, leading to constant job searches and mental stress. Additionally, being categorized as an ‘immigrant’ presented its own set of challenges, contributing to her frustration.
She hit the rock bottom in 2013. She was mentally and physically ill, she has an unknown condition that caused her face to swell and this has also affected her self-esteem. Adding on the financial challenge she had, everything felt terrible to her and she became really depressed. She felt so alone at the time, although she has some friends who are very sympathetic, but there is also this independent culture in here that people do not want to interfere with your private life too much. It has made her feel worse. Someone recommended her to a free emergency counseling service for immigrants. Yuko went there. While she was waiting for her turn, she saw a brochure on the table– a singing competition for immigrants called ‘Our Vision”, the name inspired by the well-known Eurovision. It is organized by Caisa and the winner would receive a prize of six thousands euros and studio recording opportunity. She needed the money so badly at the time and so she decided to give it a try. She continued with the counseling and prepared for the competition. In the end, she won. She received the money to support herself for a few more months and one thing led to another, she eventually got more work and life started to go back on track. ‘It is not a fun story but definitely a turning point for me,’ said Yuko, ‘that it is not going to be easy, but maybe if I stick around, something might come along.’
Yuko has mentioned the virtue of ‘hope’ in this story of hers, but as an outsider listening to the story, another important point I noticed is how Yuko bravely sought help when she’s in need. It is not easy to show vulnerability, but as a newcomer in a new country, one would encounter all sorts of challenges from language to culture to how to open a bank account and so on. It is no shame to seek help, from friends or from professionals. As Yuko said, these challenges are time to review, to stop and think about what’s the most important thing in life.
I’m immensely grateful for Yuko’s openness in sharing her story, which serves as a beacon for navigating the trials of an artistic journey and life’s struggles. Initially hesitant about the power of my words to convey her narrative, I’ve come to realize that life’s essence lies not in perfection but in the continuous effort to persevere.
Life of an art student
In this blog, Uniarts Helsinki students share their experiences as art students from different academies and perspectives, in their own words. If you want to learn even more regarding studying and student life in Uniarts and Helsinki, you can ask directly from our student ambassadors.